Canadian First Nations Gambling

In spite of current restrictions, a majority of Canadians support the idea of First Nations on reserve gambling if it occurs in conjunction with government operated gambling. This support appears to derive somewhat from economic development arguments.

Criminal Code restrictions limit First Nations on-reserve gambling in Canada. Unlike the American model, Canada’s First Nations are only permitted to operate gambling when granted permission by provincial governments. Many First Nations believe their communities and people can greatly benefit from the significant revenues gambling can generate. This is particularly so in light of the many success stories from US on-reserve gambling. To date, First Nations in Canada have negotiated the right to operate on-reserve VLT gambling in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, casinos in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and to share in profits from OntarioÕs on-reserve casino.

First Nations have been increasingly lobbying the federal and provincial governments to permit them to enter the gambling arena through a direct Criminal Code exemption. Opponents to such a change argue that on-reserve gambling would create dependency on gambling revenues within reserves, high rates of problem gambling among First Nations peoples and the over-saturation of the gambling market. Undoubtedly, a change in policy to allow more on-reserve gambling will not occur without significant consideration of the implications and a measure of public support. As a possible guide to the future, public attitudes toward First Nations gambling are examined below.

As noted earlier, only 1% of respondents stated First Nations as their choice to operate gambling. However, there are indications that Canadians may be more favourable toward on-reserve gambling than these data suggest. When asked specifically if Ògovernments should license gambling on Aboriginal/Indian Reserves,Ó respondents are substantially more positive toward First Nations gaming. As shown in Figure 16, 52% of respondents agree with on-reserve gambling and only 34% disagree. Clearly, Canadians do, on the whole, support the right of First Nations to operate gambling activities.

Due to the variety of agreements with First Nations across the provinces, a fair bit of regional variation was expected in response to this question. However, only Ontario, which has a large casino on the Rama Reserve, is strongly in favour of on-reserve gambling (57% agreement). BC (49% agree), the Prairies (49% agree), Quebec (48% agree) and the Atlantic region (48% agree) are each supportive of on-reserve gambling, but to a lesser degree.

Attitudes toward First Nations gambling among different age cohorts are strikingly different from other patterns in the survey. Younger respondents show generally more permissive attitudes toward gambling restrictions throughout the survey, and yet are the least strongly supportive of First Nations gambling. One-quarter of those 18-34 strongly agree with the licensing of on-reserve gambling. Older respondents, generally the least permissive toward gambling, showed the greatest support for on-reserve gambling (34% strongly agreeing). The reasons for these variations are not immediately clear and warrant future examination.

FIGURE 16: DO YOU AGREE THAT: “governments should license gambling on Aboriginal/Indian Reserves”
Strongly Agree – 29%
Somewhat Agree – 23%
Neither – 14%
Somewhat Disagree – 21%
Strongly Disagree – 11%